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Baptism_of_Christ“This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’ It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well
pleased’” (Mark 1:7-11).
John says there will be a difference between the baptism he offers and the baptism Jesus will offer. The vision Jesus has upon coming up out of the water describes that difference in dramatic fashion. The Spirit descends from heavens “torn open,” rending the boundary that separates heaven and earth. God walking among us in the flesh emphasizes that the Spirit is with us, suffusing all of creation.
The word “baptize” literally means to dunk or dip, which means that when we are baptized we are immersed in the Spirit of God. When the heavens are torn open as the Spirit descends, the whole of creation is bathed in divinity.
This means that when we are sent forth from Mass “to love and serve the Lord,” or even when we go to work, the gym, or the store we, as Christians, are commissioned to bring the presence of God with us to all we encounter—to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, and build a world of peace and justice for all.
When in my life have I been aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit?
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.
Image by Dave Zelenka

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“After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:9-12).
How many times in your life have you said to God, “Please give me a sign”? Whether you’re making a difficult decision or trying to find God in the chaos of everyday life, it’s not unusual to ask God for some kind of indication that He’s there. From today’s Gospel, we see that people have been looking for signs for a long time. In their search for the newborn King, the magi followed the star that brought them first to the palace of King Herod and then to the house where “they saw the child with Mary his mother” (Matthew 2:11).
Throughout the Christmas season, the Scriptures speak of how God has revealed himself to us. Today’s Gospel reading shows that God revealed himself not only to the Jewish people, but also to the Gentiles, which are represented by the magi. God is the God of the whole world, not just the God of a particular set of people.
What are the signs today that God is for everyone, loves everyone, and wants everyone to live the reign of God on earth? We are the signs. We are called to be the stars that lead people to God. We bear the Good News to the world. We are all called to be evangelizers and do so by the witness of our lives.
In what ways to you serve as a sign that leads others to God? How can you be a better sign to others?
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’ The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-38).
Given their modest circumstances, Mary and Joseph must have been especially surprised at the glorious events in the temple. First, Simeon, an old man filled with the Spirit, takes the child in his arms. He, like Mary earlier in Luke’s Gospel, is moved to praise God in song. Then, the old woman Anna, a prophet, likewise celebrates at the sight of Jesus. She cannot contain her enthusiasm and immediately begins spreading the news of the child.
Luke’s Gospel is full of instances in which humble people give dramatic expressions of praise in response to an encounter with the divine. This is fitting and gives us comfort, because the inspiring, empowering, life-giving message of the Gospel is for all, no matter how great or small our place in society may be.
No one who encounters Jesus in the episodes described in Luke’s Gospel goes away unchanged, and each responds to that encounter. Mary accepts Simeon’s rather ominous prophecy about her future heartache; Joseph agrees to raise a child that is not his own, knowing people will gossip; Simeon accepts his coming death in peace and praise; and Anna sets out to spread the message.
For us, the task is the same: to become attentive to the God who is ever beckoning us into relationship and, through this relationship, take steps to become the person God is calling us to be. In our everyday lives, the more we grow in love, the closer we grow to God and each other.
When have I recognized God’s presence in ordinary people or situations, and how has that experience affected me?
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’” (Luke 1:30-35).


“How can this be?” This is a perfectly normal reaction from a person faced with something that does not seem to make sense. Mary, an ordinary, humble, Jewish girl, is visited by an angel who tells her she will conceive a son, though she has no husband, and this child will be the Messiah that her people have longed for. Her reaction— “How can this be?”—is perfectly understandable.


It is what follows Mary’s initial reaction that makes her a model disciple. She doesn’t try to bargain with the angel (“Let me just get married first; then I can be the mother of God”) or take charge of the situation (“If this is going to happen, we have some planning to do!”). Rather, her response is one of complete acceptance of God’s will. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).


Mary’s “yes” with no questions or conditions reveals her discipleship. Her “yes” is also paralleled years later in her son’s acceptance of God’s will on the night before his crucifixion: “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).


Despite any assurances of what the future will hold, Mary places her complete trust in God and does what God asks. This is the model that we are called to emulate. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection do not mean that we will never face suffering or difficulty. God simply promises that he will never abandon us, no matter what we face in life.


How is God calling you to be a disciple in your life? What holds you back from accepting what God is asking?


Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Christ.’ So they asked him, ‘What are you then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of the one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord,” as Isaiah the prophet said’” (John 1:19-23).
In this Gospel passage, the priests, Levites, and Pharisees all ask John the Baptist what many Jews were wondering: “Who are you? … Are you Elijah? … Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-21). John denies any special role for himself. He says that he is just pointing toward “the one who is coming after me” (John 1:27).
John models the kind of attitude and behavior that all of us as Christians are called to imitate. All that we are meant to do is to direct others towards Christ. We are not to call attention to ourselves or to heighten our own importance. We are meant to reach beyond ourselves to help others live life to the fullest.
This selfless love is found amidst the often overwhelming evils in the world. It is found in those whose charity and works for justice help “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61: 1, which is this Sunday’s first reading).
These acts of selfless love illuminate our world as the holiday lights illuminate a December night. May our actions, too, light up the world.
Who are the people who have allowed their self-importance to recede so that you were able to grow and develop into the person God is calling you to be? How can you thank or acknowledge them?
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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